Puff Daddy in Japan

about Four Seasons Hotel, Worli, India

So I finally had it. Fugu Sashimi, the deadliest food known to mankind.
Fugu, the Japanese name for the much-discussed, much-poisonous puffer fish, actually does puff up - it can in fact become a nearly spherical ball of a fish by filling itself with air or water. Its quite a dramatic looker, and quite the aquarium pet. Unlike the average cobra, though, the deadly toxin found in its organs is not produced by the fish itself but by bacteria living inside it - apparently aquarium puffer-fish are not poisonous and can be chomped down without expense accounts (eat the funny pompous fish as much as you like, just don't fool around with the little guys).

The toxin itself is really really toxic, and without antidote; apparently you turn into this zombie thing and die within hours. That doesn't prevent the Japanese from paying a lot to eat them, in a whole ceremony involving sharp knives, licensed chefs and voodo (ok maybe not voodoo). In all my trips to Japan, I didn't quite dare to stress my courage or my expense account to actually venture fuguwards, but the damned thing gets enough press coverage that it remained on my must-try list. It was with some interest, therefore, that I heard about the Four Seasons, Mumbai offering fugu on the menu of their fancy Asian restaurant. So a few months ago, four of us went to the Four Seasons to try and add the puffy stuff to our gourmet credentials.

There was indeed fugu sashimi on the menu. At a shade under Rs 1,000, it wasnt even going to break the bank. All well and good, but a small amount of exploration with the waiter on its origins yielded the fact that the fish had, in fact, been sliced in Japan by a certified chef, and shipped here frozen. In other words, the waiter was quick to assure us, it was perfectly safe. He even showed us the sliced, packed, frozen portion. I must say that this let much of the drama out. Frozen? Safe? not words you want to hear for your most on-the-edge culinary experience. We ordered it anyway. The picture below is not mine (google image search leads me here), but that's pretty close to how the Four Seasons variant looked.

The fugu sashimi is a plate of pale white, translucent strips of fish. Google image search also shows that this is not usually how the stuff is presented. Remember, you're usually paying the GDP of a small country to eat the stuff in Japan, so presentation is a big deal.  A thousand rupees got us the above, but the full deal looks more like the picture below. Quite a stunning display, that. 


The final paragraph is reserved for the gourmet qualities of the fish. Frankly, it was more disappointing than anything else. We already knew it was frozen, a word that is usually kept far away from the vicinity of sashimi. On top of that, the flesh itself was chewy, tasted mildly of nothing and did not wring any ecstatic noises from anyone except the lone vegetarian who was not paying for it. Rubbery mouthfeel, undistinguished aftertaste, even my wine-trained vocabulary is struggling to make this sound good. Maybe the freshly-sliced real-Japanese thing is better, but it might just be the size of the bill and the death-defiant rush that makes this work. Not something I'm dying to try again.

Disclaimer: Unlike my usual posts, this one has images sourced from the web

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